Sunday, 27 May 2012

Inveraray Castle

It's been a gorgeous few days in Scotland, with sizzling hot weather. The traditional response to such climatic conditions is to dive for cover in the heather and bracken, and hope it goes away until the welcome misery of the rains returns. But being only half Scottish, and ever optimistically half Northern Irish, I decided instead to go on a camping trip to Loch Lomond last night, followed by a trip earlier today to Inveraray.

The last time I visited Inveraray was to take part in a Most Haunted type scenario a couple of years ago, spending a night with my wife and a few others at the town jail in the hope of catching ourselves a wee banshee or two. As my wife put it, she went in a believer and came out a sceptic! (For a full account on the trip you can read my article in Discover my Past Scotland issue 20, June 2010, available at Today we decided instead to visit Inveraray Castle, home to the Dukes of Argyll, of the Campbell clan. I won't bore you with the history of the place (see, suffice to say the clan chief is still chiefing away - instead here's a few snaps!

Incidentally, Most Haunted visited the castle a couple of years ago, and all sorts allegedly happened! Whilst there today of course, we saw nothing. I think Inveraray ghosts suffer from Patonitis! Chris

Friday, 25 May 2012

Scottish Independence

Today saw the start of the Scottish independence campaign, a movement which, if successful in 2014, will see Scotland leave the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and become a self-governing nation once again, for the first time since the 1707 Act of Union was enacted. The "Yes" campaign website formally launched today at, with the BBC coverage of the launch event at

There's lots of work ahead on the political front for the independence movement, and the unionist case gets underway next month, which will no doubt be equally rigorous. It promises to be a fascinating two years ahead.

Having spent roughly a third of my life living in Northern Ireland, a third of it in England and a third in Scotland, I am minded towards Scottish independence for many reasons. From a genealogist's point of view, whether Scotland goes independent or not is almost irrelevant, as my daily work deals with our lives in the past, and that will always have been dominated politically by the union. As a father of two small boys, however, with an eye to their future, it's a very different story. For the past few years, Scotland has increasingly felt like a nation in transition, increasingly confident to follow its own path no matter what the rest of the UK has chosen to do.

Scotland will always be in Britain, and as such will always be British, with much in our shared history to admire. On a personal note, to the day I die I will maintain that there has never been a finer moment in the island's history than the Battle of Britain, fought predominantly in the south-east of England in 1940, the outcome of which would have had grave consequences for us all if it had been different. But whilst the past can be a great place to find comfort, there is also the here and now, and the future to consider. Where our future lies is now the biggest political question faced by my generation, and I am very much looking forward to the debate.


Saturday, 12 May 2012

The Commando Memorial at Spean Bridge

Last weekend on a visit to Inverness I finally stopped off at a monument I have wished to have a proper look at for years, having often passed by it on the road in the past. The Commando Memorial at Spean Bridge, unveiled in 1952 in memory of the commandos who trained in the area during the Second World War, is one of Scotland's most famous military memorials - it is also one of the most moving, with memorial crosses in the Garden of Remembrance filled with too many soldiers who have fallen recently in Afghanistan.

The following are some images taken at the site:


Wednesday, 9 May 2012

The MacGillivrays and Culloden

Last weekend I enjoyed a bank holiday break in the Inverness area with my wife and kids. I have several lines of family from the vicinity, including Frasers, Camerons, Munros, MacFarlanes and MacGillivrays, who endured many ups and downs in their lives, none perhaps worse than the death of my great great grandmother, Janet MacGillivray (nee Fraser), who committed suicide in 1860 at the Bridge of Tomnahurich in Inverness - she jumped into the Caledonian Canal and drowned, being so distraught at the death of her daughter during childbirth. But the real mission for me was to explore the ancestral area of my MacGillivrays, in the parish of Dores, for the first time.

My five times great grandfather James MacGillivray, from the farmstead of Dunchea in the parish of Dores, married Ann Cameron on May 1st 1772 at her home in nearby Ruthven, before the couple settled at Dunchea, and later at nearby Bochruben. Although a birth record for James cannot be found, he was likely born in approximately 1750, just a few years after the tragedy of Culloden. On Saturday I spent a couple of hours within the parish, and located the modern farmsteads at Bochruben, Ruthven and Dunchea, within some of the most stunningly bleak landscape I have yet found in the country. There was light snow, and a biting wind - life would not have been easy back in the mid 18th century.

Whilst I have located several vital events shortly after 1750 for members of the MacGillivrays in Dunchea, almost certainly related to my family in such a small area, the records are sadly quite limited before this, mainly because most of the members of the clan back then were adherents to the Scottish Episcopal Church, the former aspect of the Church of Scotland prior to 1690 which continued in an independent form after the Glorious Revolution, and which remained staunchly Jacobite in its support. But what I had not previously realised prior to my visit was just how close to the centre of the MacGillivray clan territory my family locations were.

The chiefs of MacGillivray were based for centuries at Dunmaglass, in the nearby parish of Daviot and Dunlichity, and just over a mile and a half from Ruthven and a couple of miles from Dunchea. In 1746, Alexander MacGillivray of Dunmaglass led the Jacobite charge of the Clan Chattan confederation, of which the MacGillivrays were a long standing member, against the Hanoverian army at Culloden, where he lost his life. Realising just how close my family now was to the clan seat, I wondered what the chances were of my lot being caught up?

I visited Culloden, and purchased a copy of No Quarter Given: the Muster Roll of Prince Charles Edward Stuart's Army, 1745-46. The list of those who fought for Lady Mackintosh's Regiment, led by MacGillivray, records 26 MacGillivrays and several Camerons. Their places of origin were listed, with four MacGillivrays from Dunmaglass, a John MacGillivray from Aberarder, and a couple of Camerons from Dalcrombie, on the other side of Loch Ruthven from the farmstead at Ruthven where Ann hailed from.

James MacGillivray named his first son Donald, and my family, stuck almost religiously to the Scottish naming pattern, and so it is likely that my six times great grandfather was called Donald MacGillivray also. The name was certainly important, with a John MacGillivray also christening his son Donald in 1760 at Dunchea, and a possible sibling to James called Donald, also from Dunchea, marrying an Elizabeth MacGillivray of Gortleg in the same year. Of the 26 MacGillivrays at Culloden, six were Donalds, all from farmsteads in the area. Could one of these have been my ancestor, or related to him perhaps as a cousin?

Whether any of my ancestors were at Culloden I may well never know, but my family in Dores would almost certainly have suffered the same persecutions after Culloden as did all the Highlanders, being prevented from speaking Gaelic, wearing tartan plaids, carrying weapons and more. Having visited the area now, and having realised that many of the homes of those who were confirmed as having fought at Culloden were within walking distance of my ancestors' homes, it is almost certain that they at least knew many of those who fought there. Whilst I have no love for Bonnie Prince Charlie - or any monarch for that matter - I do have a lot of admiration for the loyalty of the MacGillivrays who fought and in many cases died on Drumossie Moor in April 1746.

Cuimhnich air na daoine o'n d'thàinig thu - here's to the MacGillivrays...

Touch Not This Cat Bot a Glove


Culloden - where Alexander MacGillivray fell

Dunchea - possibly the original farm (the RCAHMS has aerial photos showing imprints of a couple more nearby no longer in existence)

Bochruben farmstead

Ruthven (Loch Ruthven behind)

UPDATE (18 JUN 21012): My wife and I were so impressed with the visitor centre at Culloden that we made a donation of £50 towards its upkeep - in return we get to have our names put on the ceiling in its cafe! A pic was sent to me today showing the new addition - if you wish to contribute, please visit the centre's page at